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The Fighting Becs

Jeff Ramsay
BUILDERS OF BOTSWANA

This coming week marks the 72nd Anniversary of “Operation Avalanche,” the code name for the massive 9th September 1943 amphibious landing of the U.S. 5th Army at the Italian beachfront of Salerno. Prior to “Operation Overlord”, that is the allied invasion Normandy in the following year, Avalanche was the biggest, most complex, amphibious military assault ever mounted.

Notwithstanding the fact that it was an American formation, the 5th Army’s makeup was multinational. Thus it was that at the centre of the assault was entrusted to the British X Corps, which was made up of veterans of General Montgomery’s 8th Army that had previously spearheaded the liberation of North Africa and Sicily. These battle hardened troops included the “Fighting Becs” of the 1976 Company Africa Pioneer Corps (APC) who had been transferred into the 5th Army as batteries 278, 279, 280 of the X Corps’s Heavy Anti Aircraft (HAA) brigade.

When the army landed on Salerno’s shores, it’s commanders were confident of their forces ability to quickly to liberate Italy by outflanking and cutting off the German 10th army from the north. With the reconstituted British 8th Army also advancing from a second beachhead in the South the plan was to encircle and force the surrender of most of the enemy troops on the peninsula.

But, it was the Germans who initially seized the offensive. A combination of luck, intelligence and intuition had resulted in the bulk of their forces, including such elite units as the Herman Goering Panzer Division, being able to quickly deploy in the hills above the beachhead from where they initially outnumbered the allies.

Faced with mounting Soviet victories on the Eastern Front, Hitler hoped that a decisive turning of the tables at Salerno would buy his regime the needed time to unleash a new generation of super weapons that the German scientists and engineers had developed, which included jet aircraft, long range rockets, supersonic missiles, advanced submarines and, still in the early stages of development, the atomic bomb.

Victory seemed to be within the evil dictator’s grasp when the 5th Army was nearly forced to evacuate from its beachhead.  On shore all that stood in the way of the Germans and the sea was a gun line of artillery that notably included the Fighting Becs.

Batswana had been brought ashore with the expectation that their 3.7 Guns would provide air cover against high altitude bombing. But their role was altered by the desperate situation on the beaches. Their gun barrels were instead depressed for field firing, where they proved lethally effective against the German tanks and artillery.

By the morning of the 13th of September it appeared that the gun line would be overrun, but after a final fierce assault targeting X Corps on the 16th the Germans finally pulled back. Defeat had been averted but the Batswana role in the Italian campaign was just beginning.

Between 1941 and 1946 a total of 10,027 men served in the APC’s Bechuanaland Protectorate Companies. Given that the territory's population then numbered only about a quarter million people, this contribution represented nearly 20% of all able-bodied adult male Batswana. No part of the British Empire provided a greater proportion of fighting men.

Botswana's contribution to the war effort, however, went beyond the APC. By the end of 1943 over 21,000 additional men were in South Africa, labouring in its vital war industries, while others were recruited into the Union of South Africa Defence Force.

Villages across the country were thus deprived of between 45-65% of their manpower (figures which were then meticulously recorded by the late Prof. Isaac Schapera). Besides the loss of their men folk woman were forced to work on "war lands", in a largely futile effort to boost local food security. Many also became "Woman War Workers" who sent "gifts and comforts" to the troops.

Children also played a role. In some villages they gathered weekly at Kgosing to learn about the conflict, while listening to Levi Moumakwa deliver the first Setswana news broadcasts over B.P. Radio ZNB-Mafeking, the direct precursor to Radio Botswana. Apparently inspired, the youngsters helped raise funds for the construction of two RAF Spitfire aircraft, which were named "Bechuanaland" and "Kalahari".

Unfortunately, both the military and civilian achievements of Batswana during the war have been relatively neglected.

Who remembers that the Bangwato HAA gunners of 1977 Company destroyed at least half of all enemy planes shot down in the battle for Syracuse or recalls how Batswana smoke units helped secure the allied fleet at Taranto?

Elsewhere, Bakwena sappers of 1969 Company worked from dawn to dusk under enemy fire to assemble the world's largest Bailey Bridge across the Sangro River, paving the way for the liberation of northern Italy. The road the Batswana APC units helped build across the Italian mountains, “stradi di Bechuana”, is survives to this day.

Seven decades later it is not unreasonable to believe that the collective sacrifices and achievements of ordinary Batswana during the war was a foundation stone for Botswana’s emergence as an independent republic a mere two decades later.

(to be continued)

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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